First Equine Hendra Case of 2014 Confirmed in Queensland

First Equine Hendra Case of 2014 Confirmed in Queensland

The hendra virus

Photo: Courtesy CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory

Biosecurity Queensland is managing the first equine hendra virus case of 2014 after test results received late last night confirmed a horse in the Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia, area was positive for the disease.

Queensland's Chief Veterinary Officer Rick Symons, BVSc, MBA, PhD, said in a statement that a private veterinarian euthanized the horse Monday (March 17) after it become unwell over the weekend.

"There is one other horse on the property," Symons said. "Tracing and risk assessments are being undertaken on any animals that may have had contact with the infected horse to work out if further testing needs to be done. The property has been quarantined which means restrictions apply to moving horses and horse materials on and off the property. The quarantine will be in place for at least one month.

"The timing of this case highlights the need for horse owners to remain vigilant in taking steps to reduce the risk of infection as hendra virus can occur year round,” he continued. "Vaccination is the single most effective way of reducing the risk of hendra virus infection in horses. It is recommended that horse owners speak to their veterinarian about vaccinating their horses."

Hendra virus has been known to yield numerous clinical signs in horses including respiratory distress, frothy nasal discharge, elevated body temperature (above 40°C, or 104°F), and elevated heart rate; however, authorities caution that hendra infection does not have specific signs. The disease is zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted from horses to humans, and as proved deadly for several humans exposed to sick horses in the past.

"If a horse becomes sick, owners should contact their veterinarian immediately," Symons said. "People in contact with horses need to remember to continue to practice good biosecurity and personal hygiene measures even if a horse is vaccinated against hendra virus."

The Australian Veterinary Association suggested that horse owners can reduce the risks of hendra virus in their horses by fencing off trees attractive to flying foxes (a type of fruit bat thought to spread hendra to horses), covering horse feed and water containers, and not feeding horses food that could appeal to flying foxes, such as fruit and vegetables.

Biosecurity Queensland also offered some tips to help reduce the risk of horses contracting hendra virus:

  • A hendra virus vaccine is available for horses. It is recommended horse owners discuss with their veterinarian whether vaccinating their horses is appropriate.
  • Horse feed and water containers should be removed from under trees. If possible, place feed and water containers under a shelter.
  • Owners should inspect and identify flowering/fruiting trees on their property. Horses should be removed from paddocks where flowering/fruiting trees are attracting flying foxes. Horses should be returned only after the trees have stopped flowering/fruiting and the flying foxes have gone. If horses cannot be removed from the paddock, consider fencing (temporary or permanent) to restrict access to flowering/ fruiting trees. Clean up any fruit debris underneath the trees before returning horses.
  • If it is not possible to remove horses from paddocks, try to temporarily remove your horses during times of peak flying fox activity (usually at dusk and during the night).
  • Ensure that sick horses are isolated from other horses, people, and animals until a veterinarian´s opinion is obtained.
  • If there is more than one horse on your property, handle unaffected horses first and then only handle sick horses after taking appropriate precautions.
  • Make sure gear exposed to any body fluids from horses is cleaned and disinfected before it is used on another horse. This includes halters, lead ropes, and twitches. Talk to your veterinarian about which cleaning agents and disinfectants to use.
  • When cleaning contaminated equipment from a sick horse, wear gloves, cover any cuts or grazes, and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • It is essential that horse owners practice good biosecurity and not travel with or work on sick horses, or take them to other properties or equestrian events.
  • Seek veterinary advice before bringing any sick horse onto your property.

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, news editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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